Maine’s First Powered Land Vehicle at Transportation Museum

By Staff
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Owls Head Transportation Museum
P.O. Box 277 Owls Head, Maine 04854

The Owls Head Transportation Museum is presently exhibiting what
is believed to be Maine’s first powered-land vehicle, the 1834
Cyrus Hamlin Engine. The vehicle is on loan from Bowdoin College,
and has been incorporated into the Museum’s Wright Brothers,
exhibit Harnessing Power.

The Hamlin engine was built by 23-year-old Cyrus Hamlin. Hamlin
was born in Waterford, Maine, in 1811. He was the nephew of
Hannibal Hamlin, Abraham Lincoln’s first Vice-President. Cyrus
was inspired by the great steam engine on the Chancellor Livingston
when it docked in Portland Harbor, in 1834, while he was a student
at Bowdoin College. Hamlin was so impressed by the Livingston’s
technology that he proposed constructing a steam engine that the
college would purchase for demonstrations. The engine was built in
10 weeks in Mr. Edward Grueby’s clock factory in Portland.

The 1834 Cyrus Hamlin engine, Maine’s earliest powered land
vehicle, is on display at the Owls Head Transportation Museum in
Owls Head, Maine. The engine is on loan from Bowdoin College.

According to Charles Chiarchiaro, Museum Director, the Cyrus
Hamlin engine is an important and significant piece. ‘The steam
engine was first improved upon by James Watt with his patents of
1781-1785. The four cycle gasoline engine was developed by Nicholas
Otto in 1876. The first successful gasoline powered automobile was
built by Karl Benz in 1885, the first Stanley Steam Car in 1897,
and the first successful powered flight was by the Wright Brothers
at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Here we have a 23-year-old student, inspired
by his first experience with a steam engine who, in 1834, with few
tools, a bit of research and a mountain of enthusiasm, created a
working steam engine and boiler combination, in a ten week period.
Most importantly, he harnessed the energy of his engine by
connecting the crankshaft to the rear wheels, successfully
developing a working, powered motor road vehicle. This is a
wonderful story of ingenuity and determination, illustrating the
great chemistry which fueled the industrial revolution and the
development of powered transportation,’ Chiarchiaro said.
‘The Hamlin was built 69 years prior to the Wrights’
powered flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, and is an important addition
to our Harnessing Power exhibit.’ The Hamlin Engine will be
displayed with a full-size replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer, an
1885 Benz Gasoline Automobile, and a 1902 Riker Electric car, in
addition to other landmark examples.

The Transportation Museum is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00
p.m., with many special weekend events. In addition to the Wright
Brothers Exhibit ,the Museum is presently featuring Neil
Armstrong’s Appolo mission space training suit, the prototype
1963 Ford Mustang, and the ca. 1905 turkey-feather covered
ornithopter. The Museum has a permanent collection of more than 30
aircraft, 70 automobiles, bicycles, carriages and motorcycles. For
information, including a schedule of summer events, contact the
Museum at (207) 594-4418. The Museum can be reached by e-mail at Its Web address is

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